Remarks of John F. Kennedy at a Young Democrats of New York Meeting, New York, New York, October 15, 1946

It is a great honor and pleasure for me to be here tonight and I am grateful to the Women’s Division and Youth Division of the New York Democratic State Committee, and your able Chairman, Miss Josephine Pisani and Mr. John Foley.

I have been asked tonight to discuss briefly the part that Veterans can play in Party organization.

There are some people in this country, and there are Veterans among them, who feel this coming election is of little importance, perhaps the fatigue of post-war America explains this indifference. Perhaps it is explained by the fact that politicians are regarded in this year of our Lord as a necessary evil, and there is even some question about their necessity. Whatever the reason, to me, this lack of interest, this apathy, is dangerous and may be disastrous. Remember the words of Housseau, “As soon as any man says of the affairs of state “What does it matter to me?” the state may be given up as lost.” Today many men – and women – are saying “What does it matter to me?”

It should matter a lot and especially should it matter to the Veterans. The Veterans now comprise about 43% of the men in this country. A large percentage – too large to permit ourselves to feel that we are a privileged minority: too large to feel that we have only rights, not duties – too large not to see clearly that it was not for others that we fought, but for ourselves. Too large indeed, to be indifferent to the future of our Country.

I think most Veterans recognize that this is true. They recognize that their work has only begun. And they understand also that the next years will be decisive years in the Country that they worked so hard to preserve.

On the decisions of the next Congress rests our future.

The problems are difficult, and all of them vital. That is why I believe the elections this fall are so important to the Veterans.

This, then, leads us to the question: Which political party can best meet the critical problems we face?

There are some people in this country, and there are Veterans among them, who feel that party designations have become unimportant. They point to conservative Democrats and progressive Republicans. But parties are not made by single men. The philosophies of political parties are hammered out over long periods – in good times and in bad – in war and in peace. And anyone who views objectively the political parties of this nation cannot but come to the conclusion that, from the days of Andrew Jackson to the present day the Democratic Party has always fought the people’s fight, has always been the party that supported progressive legislation.

This is why I believe that the Democratic Party is the party that most Veterans will support. And they will support the Democratic Party, not as Veterans, but as citizens. They will support the Democratic Party as citizens, not merely because of the great good which the Democratic Party has done for Veterans, but because they recognize the great good the Democratic Party has done for the country, and only if the country as a whole prospers will the various groups within the country prosper. For prosperity is not divisible.

While most Veterans are grateful for what our political parties have done for them in the past, they are more concerned with what our political parties offer them to help meet the future. Yet we cannot ignore the fact that the best guide to the future is the past. And I believe that the Democratic Party, by its record of the past years, has demonstrated its ability to meet the problems of the years ahead. The Democratic Party stands for full employment and high production. It stands for an extension of social security, to give full protection to the unemployed and aged. It stands for a minimum wage, not only for humane reasons but because it recognizes that, only by strengthening of consumer purchasing power can prosperity in this Country be maintained. It stands for the enactment of a long range housing program for the relief of Veterans. It stands for regional development of projects such as TVA. It stands today as it has stood in the past, for the enactment of progressive legislation that will be of aid to the people, that will preserve our system of private enterprise and strengthen the fabric of our society. And most important, in my opinions, the Democratic Party recognized that our present prosperity is precarious and to protect it the Government must be prepared to use its strength and its resources in fighting economic stagnation wherever it threatens.

This is the program of the Democratic Party. This is the political philosophy that is at stake in the election this fall.

But is must be remembered that programs, political philosophies and opinions cannot of themselves elect candidates. In the recent primary in New York only about 10% of those eligible voted. Where were the other 90% on primary day? What were they doing that was so all-important that they could not other to vote?

Why this indifference? Why this disinterest? I believe it was partly due to sheer laziness on the part of the voters. But more than that – it was a result of the failure of the Party organization.

To be efficient, party organization needs first, intelligent leadership which you in New York have – but it likewise is essential that you have workers to do the tiresome tasks which, in fact, mean the difference between defeat and victory.

As anyone connected with politics will tell you, one enthusiastic amateur who will address envelopes, make telephone calls, ring doorbells, pass out cards, is wroth a dozen political hacks who hang around headquarters, beefing and griping and advising.

It seems to me that Veterans, who know organization, and – most importantly – what is at stake in this coming election, are especially needed in the Democratic Party.

The men from New York have had in war a notable record from the birth of this nation to the present day. They fought with Schuyler and Gates at Saratoga -- with Scott at the Halls of Montezuma – with Meade at Gettysburg – with Sheridan at Winchester – with Phil Kearney at Fair Oaks. In the first World War they fought with the Fifth and Sixth Marines at Belleau Wood – with the “Fighting 69th” at Chateau Thierry, the Meuse-Argonne, the Marne and at Verdun.

And in this last war they fought with the first Marines in Guadalcanal – with the 27th at Saipan – with the 77th at Okinawa.

They stormed Omaha Beach with the First Division – crossed Purple Heart Valley with the Second Ranger Battalion. They fought well in defeat and in victory.

In this war, as in all wars, the men of New York were among the first to be committed to battle.

Now they are Veterans, and they have an equal change to serve their State and their Nation in time of peace. If the Democratic Party is to survive it needs these young men and women in its ranks.

You have a good cause for which to fight.

Young men and women – your future is in your hands.

Speech source: David F. Powers Personal Papers. Series 09. John F. Kennedy Speeches File. Box 28, Folder: "Young Democrats of New York, 15 October 1946".